A 9/11 story, originally from 2006, and the whole idea of “why we write.”
Let’s face it. Way too much of what we ask kids to write in school is nonsensical “make work” that devalues the art and purposes of writing in the minds of our young people. Whether it is “reflections” on something the teacher thinks is important, a prediction of what another writer’s characters will do next, or worst of all, an essay arguing — in a specified format — for a point no one cares about, our learners learn one thing only, that they don’t want to write. Yes, this is the same way we teach kids to not want to read — it all goes together.
The best way I’ve found to get kids — let’s say middle-grade kids — to want to write and to put the effort into becoming better writers, involves three steps.
(1) Let them read things that are relevant, challenging, and nothing like the standard forms of writing.
(2) Tell them that they get to determine their audience — themselves, their friends, the adults around them, or as many people as possible. That all these audiences are valid but we write differently for each. That the least important audience is the teacher — because if the teacher is the audience we write really, really badly (see all academic writing).
(3) Ask them to write about bad things that have happened to them, or about bad things they’re afraid might happen. This taps into their heads in ways school writing assignments never do.
We write when we have to — but that does not mean we write only because someone, teacher, employer, or whoever is making us. It means we write because we need to communicate something important to us, and the slow format of writing and reading (either decoding or listening) is the way we think we can best get our ideas, feelings, and understandings across to ourselves or others.
With all that said, a September 11, 2001 story that I had to write back in 2006. I won’t say, “never forget” because we humans forget pretty much everything. Instead, I’ll say “I’ll never forget,” and admit that this was written just for me.
With the Hudson River at my back, I sit and eat two slices of acceptable “Famous…